31 October 2009

UK: Who Do You Think You Are? February 2010

Have you ever wondered what secrets lurk in your family's past?

The next edition of the fabulous "Who do You Think You Are? LIVE" is set for London's Olympia National Hall from February 26-28, 2010. It may be the place where you find answers to your questions about your family's unique history.

Some 15,000 enthusiastic and passionate-about-genealogy visitors are anticipated over the three-day show. Sponsors include Ancestry.co.uk, FamilyTreeDNA.com and others.

The show has a new website with all the latest information. Readers should sign up for the newsletter to receive breaking news and more information. The sign up box is above the left sidebar menu.

Family history research is always an exciting ride down discovery road, and we're never sure of what we might find along the way. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned researcher, the event will have something to enjoy and many experts to help.

The Society of Genealogists Family History Show, sponsored by TheGenealogist.co.uk, will feature UK family history societies, whose specialists with local knowledge will help find answers to questions, and provide information to help you discover your own unique story. The SoG workshop program will offer more than 100 workshops and seminars on many topics. Some 200 exhibitors will help even more. Everything's under one roof, making it very convenient.

I've tried to attend the show for two years without success - something has always forced a change in plans - but I'm hoping this year I'll really make it.

The Olympia National Hall in London is easily accessible by tube (subway for non-Brits), bus and other transport. It's just a short bus ride from our cousins in Chiswick (and there's a great Persian restaurant across the street from the hall!).

Tickets go on sale soon (show tickets, November; workshop tickets, January). Show hours are Friday (10am-6.30pm), Saturday (9.30am-6pm) and Sunday (9.30am-5pm).

Sign up for the newsletter!

Footnote.com: Answering some questions

Every time that an online site announces the addition of new collections, you can be sure that geneabloggers will chime in with questions and suggestions.

Footnote.com's recent announcement has produced responses by both Diane Haddad of the Genealogy Insider blog at Family Tree Magazine and Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings.

Diane asked Footnote's Justin Schroepfer a few good questions about the recent interactive census announcement. Her post provided the questions (below) and Justin's answers:

1. Is Footnote creating new census images and indexes? How is this being done?

2. When will we start seeing the new censuses added to the site? What states will be first? When do you anticipate the collection will be complete?

3. Looking down the road, how will the census addition affect Footnote’s subscription pricing ($79.95 per year or $11.95 per month)?

4. Will changes to the workings of the site be necessary to accommodate the added data, searches and traffic?

Check out Diane's post at the link above for the answers.

On the same subject, Randy Seaver's post on Genea-Musings offered an excellent suggestion for Footnote.com to consider.

The site offers Footnote Pages for the 1930 Federal Census (and many other collections), so visitors can create a page for each individual of interest. This means that each census can create a separate page for each person. The problem is that there will be multiple census pages created for one individual listed in many censuses.

Randy's suggestion:

In my humble opinion, Footnote.com needs to find a way to combine the several records for a person so that there is only one Footnote Page for an individual. If they can accomplish that, then Footnote.com may well be the best place online to have a wiki environment collection of Person Pages, with user-submitted photographs, documents, stories, vital records, etc.
Excellent idea, Randy!

On the Radio: Susan King, Tracing the Tribe, Nov. 3

Tracing the Tribe will be featured on Susan E. King's radio show - "Where genealogy and spirit connect" - on Tuesday, November 3 (see below for the times in your area).

All of Tracing the Tribe's readers are invited to listen in and ask questions.

We'll talk about many topics, including the IberianAshkenaz DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA.com, which has already linked some 75% of ostensible Ashkenazi project participants to Hispanics with known or suspected Jewish roots; Persian Jewish genealogical research, Sephardic research, genealogy blogging, and many other subjects.

Additionally, listeners from around the world may call in with questions - toll-free - by calling 888-815-9756. We are looking forward both to our conversation and to receiving questions from listeners.

To listen live, tune in Tuesday at the following times:

US/Canada: Pacific Time 11am, Mountain Time 12 noon, Central Time 1pm, East Coast 2pm

International: Israel 9pm, UK 7pm. Check other times for your geo-location.

Click here or here to go to the show at the proper time, and there's also information on how to connect for a better experience. Check out this link now so you'll know what to do on Tuesday.

Listeners around the world can listen in live and also ask questions, toll free worldwide, by calling 888-815-9756.

For more information on this episode, click this link.

For those who cannot listen in live, the interview will also be available via podcast.

Call for Papers: Conversos in Spain Conference

The Fifth International Converso and Morisco Studies Conference has been organized by Saint Louis University (Madrid, Spain), in collaboration with the University of Alcale (Alcale de Henares), and will be held at the University of Alcale from June 16-18, 2010.

The Call for Papers is out now (deadline January 29, 2010) and it will focus on the Converso and Morisco experience in Spain, Portugal, their empires and in the Mediterranean diaspora communities.

The goal, since the first conference in 2004, is to bring together an international and multi-disciplinary group of scholars to examine not only Converso and Morisco topics but also the question of social identity.

Some of the conference papers will be published in the third volume of the series, "The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond," which is published by Brill Academic Press. Try to find this in your local libraries as the cost is prohibitive to the ordinary researcher.

To learn more about the Conversos, click here. It is a well-written piece on the origins, the persecutions and how they were forced to concoct elaborate false genealogies to obtain limpieza de sangre certificates for various purposes, identifying them as Old Christians, in order to leave for other countries, or for entry into the church, university, local government and military noble orders. The page answers why the Spanish rulers set up the Inquisition as well as the psychological pressures, impact of constant persecution and anti-Semitism on the Converso communities and, additionally, how the Inquisition contributed to the difficult economy of Spain after the 1492 Expulsion.

View the 2008 conference program here. Some abstracts are in English, most are in Spanish (use Google Translate if Spanish is not one of your languages), but do read through the 36-page document. There are some fascinating topics addressed, including the rarely-referenced situation of the Moriscos (Moslems whom the Inquisition also forced to become Christians).

Take a look at the other previous conference programs, which address many topics, such as the Conversos in Sicily and much more.

Interested in submitting a proposal for the event? Send Kevin Ingram a 250-word abstract in English or Spanish.

For more details, visit the website.

30 October 2009

Las Vegas: MOTs play poker

Tracing the Tribe is not always about genealogy, per se. It also covers the achievements of members of the tribe in various fields. Today it's poker.

A certain generation of us remember our male relatives playing cards (friendly or for money), and our female relatives playing cards or mah jong. But, as noted before, those weren't places where millions of dollars changed hands. They were decidedly small stake games.

Today, we trace the MOTs even to Las Vegas, where four (out of nine) are in the finals of a really big stakes poker tournament.

The Forward's story, by Ron Dicker, called them "Chai Rollers."
In defiance of the odds on a scale of, say, holding a royal flush, four of the nine players who will be sitting at the final table at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas are Jewish.
The competition begins November 7, with a $8.6 million top prize.

Where did some of these top players pick up their skills?

While many Jewish studies say that Jewish summer camps are one of the best ways to transmit and preserve Jewish values, Tracing the Tribe didn't know poker was part of it, although that's where one finalist learned the ropes.

Jeff Shulman, 34, learned the basics of poker at B’nai B’rith summer camp in Neotsu, Ore. He quickly parted bunkmates and their money. “It was fairly natural for me.”
You maybe thought that extra money for your camper was going for ice cream?

And although the Talmud says that a father must teach his son to swim, I hadn't heard that the next line was "teach him to play cards for big money." Jeff's father, Barry Shulman, is also a top player and took home $1.3 million at the World Series European Championship, on October 1 in London. The tournament was halted for a day because of Yom Kippur.

Jeff studied with his father to master the high stakes game, and in 2000 he also qualified for the World Series championship table, and finished seventh. He says he's always believed he was a good money manager, and doesn't think of it as Jewish.

Shulman lives in Las Vegas. The other three MOT finalists are Steven Begleiter, 47, (Chappaqua, N.Y.), Eric Buchman (Valley Stream, N.Y.) and Kevin Schaffel (Coral Springs, Fla.), are the latest to reach the top level of a game with a large number of Jewish participants. These top nine players are what's left of 6,500 people from 115 countries who entered the competition months ago.

“We simply can’t explain this statistic,” World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and tournament director Jack Effel said through a spokesman. Bo Bernhard, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s director of gaming research, also was stumped, and said he could offer “zero explanation.”
Other MOTs who have won big recently are Hollywood agent Jamie Gold, who took home $12 million at the 2006 World Series Main Event. Player of the year for 2006 Michael Mizrachi won almost $7 million.

How are other MOTs involved? World Series titleholder David Sklansky has written poker theory books. Brother-and-sister duo World Series event winners, Howard Lederer and Annie Duke still play at a top level. Read about the Babe Ruth of high-stakes poker Stu Ungar in the complete article.

The story quotes Tel Aviv University sociologist Giora Rahav:

“I’d say that there is reason to believe that Jews have a higher rate of participation in gambling than their neighbors. As for making money by gambling, the only thing I can think of is that the [Jewish] tradition of well-controlled drinking applies here as well. If they are well controlled, they lose less.”
A woman eliminated early on, Martha Frankel, noticed the preponderance of MOTs:
“You look around that room at the World Series of Poker,” she said. “If somebody started speaking in Yiddish, half of us would have looked up.”
Read about Frankel's life and her book in the complete article.

Begleiter got involved in middle school, but made a commitment in the suburbs, playing in a basement poker league with his friends, who are also benefiting from his participation. Read about his profit-sharing arrangement with his friends in the article.

Rounding out the story, Begleiter pointed out that no matter each player's nationality or religion, the main point was luck. Mazal is a good thing!

“We all had our share of good fortune in getting here,” he said. “The Red Sea definitely parted for me a couple of times.”
Read the complete article at the link above.

Call for Papers: 16th UK Conference on Judeo-Spanish Studies

The 16th British Conference on Judeo-Spanish Studies will take place July 13-15, 2010, at the University of London, UK.

Held in collaboration with the Salti Center for Ladino Studies at Bar‐Ilan University, Israel, it is an international scholarly forum for university teachers and researchers preparing doctoral theses on Judeo-Spanish Studies.

The Call for Papers is out now, and not more than 200-word abstracts are invited. Although the emphasis is on language and literature, papers on Sephardic-related topics are welcome.

Click on the link above for all details and more information., such as the conference committee.

Miami: Reunion story, Nov. 1

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami has a heartwarming reunion story to share at its Sunday, November 1 meeting. Success is always great, and it inspires others to never give up!

It all begins at 10am, Sunday, November 1, at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, 4200 Biscayne Boulevard. NOTE: There is now extra security for the free parking (see below). Bring ID with you.

The speakers are Aaron Bernstein, the American Society for Yad Vashem's Southern Region director, and JGSMiami member Toby Leven. Bernstein helped Leven locate a missing cousin in Israel.

Toby Leven says:
For years, my brothers and I tried to find out what happened to my father's family in Europe during the Holocaust. We joined the JGS and they helped identify the town they came from. That was the first and most important step. We tried many websites for years, but in September I went to the Yad Vashem website and typed in the name of my father and the town. Thankfully, a page of testimony had been submitted by the only survivor of the family. I now had the name and address of my cousin in Israel. I learned there was a local Yad Vashem office in Aventura and Aaron Bernstein made the first contact. When I spoke to my cousin, Shalom Rosenblatt, I told him my brothers and I were coming to Israel to meet him. We had a marvelous reunion October 1, 2009.

In May 2009, Bernstein - a Florida native raised in Israel who served in the Israel Air Force - joined the American Society for Yad Vashem as director of the new Southern Region (Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and as far as Texas).

An active speaker - as an Israel Hasbara team member - on Israeli culture, business, and politics, he is past chair of the Atlanta-Ra'anana Sister City Committee and is involved in numerous civic causes.

Join the meeting on Sunday to hear the full story. Arrive early and join the Early Bird shmooze session at 9.30am. Guests are always welcome, according to JGS president Joan Parker.

Security Note: The gate is now permanently closed and there is a yellow security box on the left side. Press #001 for Security. Announce you are there for the JGS meeting, the gate will slide open and close after you have gone through.

Call for Papers: Journal for study of Sephardic/Mizrahi Jewry

Florida International University is now publishing a new Journal for the Study of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry; the call for papers is out for the Winter 2009 edition.

It is an ongoing, interdisciplinary project which draws upon the expertise of leading scholars and covers all aspects of the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish experience.

Even better, the new journal is free, fully online, and easily accessible to everyone via the journal website. Four issues are now online.

The publication is part of FIU's President Navon Program for the Study of Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry. Dr. Zion Zohar is editor, and Abraham Lavender (well-known to Sephardic Jewish genealogists and the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies) is the book review editor. The editoral board includes Jane S. Gerber, Norman Stillman, and other experts.

Perusing the four online issues, there seem to be many Kabbalah-focused articles (many aspects), which is not one of Tracing the Tribe's favorite subjects although other readers are fascinated by this topic.

Tracing the Tribe found the following articles interesting.

Abraham D. Lavender: DNA Origins and Current Consequences for Sephardi, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi Males and Females: Latest Results from Medical, Genealogical-Familial, and National-Ethnic Research

Matthew Warshawsky: Trans-Atlantic Crypto-Judaism and Literary Homage: Tomás Treviño de Sobremonte and the Women in his Life

Abraham D. Lavender: Book review: Jonathan Ray. The Sephardic Frontier: The Reconquista and the Jewish Community in Medieval Iberia. The book's seven chapters are 1-The Migration of Jewish Settlers to the Frontier, 2-Jewish Landownership, 3-Money-lending and Beyond: The Jews in the Economic Life of the Frontier, 4-Royal Authority and the Legal Status of Iberian Jewry, 5-Jewish Communal Organization and Authority, 6-Communal Tensions and the Question of Jewish Autonomy, and 7-Maintenance of Social Boundaries on the Iberian Frontier.

Here's only a small portion of Lavender's four-page review:

The Sephardic Frontier uses a large amount of unpublished material in royal, ecclesiastical, and municipal archives, as well as rabbinic literature, to suggest a new view of this time period. Ray, studying Jewish and non-Jewish life in the frontier of al-Andalus following the expulsion of the Muslims, argues that the significant depletion of population caused by the expulsion of most Muslims from al-Andalus, and the subsequent successful efforts to repopulate this area with Christians as well as with Jews from other sections of Iberia and areas outside Iberia, resulted in Jewish life that was different from that in other parts of Iberia. This challenges the traditional historical view which has taught that already developed Jewish communities, mostly from other areas of Iberia, were reestablished in al-Andalus ...

Samantha Baskind: Picturing Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam. This is a very interesting 13-page article focusing on how Jews were depicted in contemporary art of the time. Here's a small portion (I highly recommend reading the entire article for interesting insights into how our ancestors lived):

By showing the Ashkenazim bound to ritual, artists offered a particular vision that fulfilled the imaginings of the Gentile population. In contrast, by picturing the less “serious” (and by extension seemingly less “religious”) Sephardic Jew in fashionable attire and with trimmed facial hair, artists presented the Sephardim as understandable within a Dutch context, thereby defying the “physiological and psychological unknown” to borrow Barbara Stafford’s apt phrase. The manner by which the Sephardim were pictured in prints during this period gave assurance to viewers fearful of the Other, of the foreign Jew who, in fact, was not so foreign. Moreover, as an observed subject, the Ashkenazi Jew became an understood subject, and even more significantly, the Sephardic-Ashkenazi disparity demonstrated that “the Jew” was clearly able to reform (i.e., become Dutch, to a degree), as the Portuguese Jews had already done.
Each issue also features a list of books received and available for review - I wish I had them all. Here are a few:

Aviva Ben-Ur. Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History, (New York: New York University Press, 2009) 321 pages.

Joseph B. Glass and Ruth Kark. Sephardi Entrepreneurs in Jerusalem: The Valero Family 1800-1948, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2007) 440 pages.

Emily Gottreich. The Mellah of Marrakesh: Jewish and Muslim Space in Morocco's Red City, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) 211 pages.

Antonio Munoz Molina and T.A. Perry. Traces of Sepharad/Huellas de Sefarad, Etchings of Judeo-Spanish Proverbs, (New York: Gravity Free Press, 2008) 143 pages.

Zion Zohar. (Editor), Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry - from the Golden Age of Spain to Modern Times, (New York: New York University Press, 2005) 352 pages.

Academics in Sephardic and Mizrahi studies are invited to submit articles and contribute to the new journal. Among the benefits is the short time span between submission and publishing compared to other journals. If you are interested in contributing to this online publication, see submission guidelines and instruction sheet here. The Call for Papers is here.

Read the complete articles at the links above.

29 October 2009

New Mexico: More details, resources, traditions

Tracing the Tribe has been reminded by a Converso friend about Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, who was Onate's historian (and who left detailed writings) and also about the Aguilar Expedition.

Our friend also stated that most researchers in the area don't know their own roots.

Remember that, after the 1492 Expulsion, there were supposed to be no Jews left in Spain. And New Christians (the Conversos) were prohibited from leaving Spain for the New World.

This makes sense as the Church realized that those who left would soon take up their Jewish traditions again when they were living in freedom, and this was also the impetus for the Inquisition setting up branches in Mexico and other South American countries. The Inquisition was determined to find the "backsliders" and convict them for Judaizing, which meant burning at the stake in an auto-de-fe, confiscation of their assets or transport to the Philippines, which was a penal colony at that time.

In Mexico, an auto-de-fe was held as late as 1815, and the Inquisition wasn't abolished there until the country's 1821 independence. Not so long ago, was it?

This means that there were confirmed Conversos following Jewish traditions there as late as 1821 - in the official sense - and, of course, until today There was no need for an Inquisition office if there were no Conversos or New Christians to be accused of, or to be informed on, for Judaizing.

For a person to leave Spain, a limpieza de sangre certificate was required. This guaranteed that the passenger was pure of blood (and religion!) and was an Old Christian (or who had acquired some sort of dispensation through "connections." As expected, there was a very busy black market in forged documents based on elaborate false genealogies which enabled people to leave with their assets for the New World.

Many people also are not aware that in the port of Veracruz, Mexico, soldiers were ordered to inspect the goods of arriving passengers and to carefully look for "suspicious" items. Suspicious meant anything having to do with Judaism. Many Conversos brought Jewish artifacts, Hebrew books, even Torah scrolls, Shabbat candlesticks and menorahs, and the "inspectors" were bribed to look the other way.

There are families in Southwest states who still have these "suspicious" possessions hidden away. They are priceless family heirlooms.

The Inquisition in Albuquerque was eventually closed as it received little cooperation from the mostly Converso inhabitants who refused to inform on their neighbors and relatives.

For readers interested in Jewish, Sephardic and Converso history, here are some links to see the names (and details) of participants who traveled with Don Juan Onate, on the expedition's historian Gaspar Perez de Villagra well as information on the Aguilar Expedition.

For additional information, compare the family names of the people on these expeditions with the Sephardim.com and SephardicGen.com name search engines for documented Sephardic names. Another source for comparison is Pere Bonnin's Sangre Judia, (4th expanded edition), which lists thousands of names documented as Jewish from pre-Inquisition records, Inquisition court records and other sources.

There are many sources for New Mexico genealogy research. Sites hold transcriptions of census records; birth, marriage and death; and much more. Google "New Mexico genealogy" and have fun sorting out all the hits.

The Gateway to Mexico page has an amazing amount of information. The complete and very detailed Onate list is here.

The Bernalillo County (New Mexico) page offers excellent information, such as a partial list of the Onate settlers (some are not on this list but do appear on the Gateway to Mexico list above). There is a list of married women who joined Onate's expedition in 1600. For a partial list of settlers who arrived in 1600, click here.

The New Mexico Genealogical Society has been publishing a journal for 40 years (available on CD), offers many articles online and information on archival resources.

The Converso community is not limited to New Mexico - they are found in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California - indeed everywhere Hispanics live today. Some know who they are, some suspect, some are not yet aware of their history, some don't refuse to accept the facts when the evidence is provided.

Family customs and stories are the most important clues to ancestry origins.

Does a family today (or did the grandparents) follow la dieta (kashrut, no pork)? Are there distinctive family customs surrounding birth, marriage, death - that are not followed by everyone - only within a certain group of families? Of grandparents repeating what their own grandparents said: "Be careful whom you marry. Do not break the chain." Do certain families marry only with certain other families? Are children told not to eat in the homes of their friends?

Are there unusual wedding customs, such as stepping on a cup or glass, or of women embroidering cloths used at a wedding? Are special engagement ceremonies held by some families? Is there some sort of bathing ceremony for bride or bride and groom before a wedding? Are animals or chickens killed in a special way, perhaps by the members of one particular family in a community? What is done with the blood? Are the girls in the family told about family secrets by their grandmothers? Do older family members touch a certain place on the doorframe when entering or leaving their house?

Common customs include avoiding pork and lard, lighting candles on Friday nights, observing Saturday as the Sabbath, burying within a day, men in certain families not entering a cemetery even for close relatives' funerals, mirrors covered in a house of mourning, observing unusual holidays with specific foods for those events, circumcision, and sometimes a ceremony on the 30th day after a male infant is born, special customs for 40 days after giving birth, burying or burning nail clippings, sweeping the floor to the center of the room, throwing a small piece of dough into the fire when making bread (accompanied by words or not), or special traditions for washing hands before eating.

Sometimes a family has retained only a few customs. They don't know why they still keep those traditions, but they continue to do so because their ancestors did it and tradition is very strong in those families. Other families know why they observe some traditions but have forgotten much of what their ancestors knew.

Tracing the Tribe has always been fascinated by these communities and awed by those families who have maintained so many traditions and so much knowledge over the centuries since arriving in the New World.

Footnote.com: Entire US census to go interactive

Today, Footnote.com announced that it will digitize and create a searchable database for all publicly available US Federal Censuses (1790-1930), featuring the original documents.

This means that Footnote, which offers wonderful online resources in original documents, will add more than 9.5 million images and more than a half-billion names - through its partnership with the National Archives - to the company's already extensive online record collection, currently at 60 million historical records, available by subscription.

According to NARA Deputy Director Cynthia Fox:

“The census is the most heavily used body of records from the National Archives. In addition to names and ages, they are used to obtain dates for naturalizations and the year of immigration. This information can then be used to locate additional records.”
Footnote will use the US Census records to tie content together, creating a pathway to discover additional records that have been previously difficult to find.

According to Footnote's CEO Russ Wilding:

“We see the census as a highway leading back to the 18th century. This Census Highway provides off-ramps leading to additional records on the site such as naturalization records, historical newspapers, military records and more. Going forward, Footnote.com will continue to add valuable and unique collections that will enhance the census collection.”
Footnote.com has already completed census collections from two key decades: 1930 and 1860. Visitors to the site can view status reports for each decade and sign up for email alerts when more records are added for a particular year. For more information, view the Census Progress Page.

Footnote members will also be able to take advantage of the interactive experience by adding their own contributions.

For any person found in the census, users can:

-- Add comments and insights about that person.
-- Upload and attach scanned photos or documents related to that person.
-- Generate a Footnote Page for any individual that features stories, a photo gallery, timeline and map.
-- Identify relatives found in the census by clicking the I’m Related button.

To see how it works, check out the 1930 Interactive Census record for Jimmy Stewart.

According to Roger Bell, senior vice president of product development, the most popular feature of the Interactive Census is the "I'm Related" button.

“This provides an easy way for people to show relations and actually use the census records to make connections with others that may be related to the same person.”
Did you know that Footnote works with the National Archives and other organizations to add at least a million new documents and photos each month? Collections include the new Holocaust resources, as well as collections on American Wars, Historical Newspapers and more.

CEO Russ Wilding says that the company will continue to move aggressively to add records to the site, specifically those that are requested by our members and others not otherwise available on the Internet.

All of this is excellent news for far-flung global researchers who simply cannot access these records on site due to distance (and expense), as well as for the rest of us.

For more information, click here.

Kansas City: Jewish genetics seminar, Nov. 2-3

If genetics and DNA fascinate you and you live near Kansas City, here's an event you won't want to miss.

The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle reported on the seminar - “Genetics, Jewish Diseases and Personalized Medicine” - which will take place Monday and Tuesday, November 2-3, at the Kansas City, Missouri Public Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Advances in genetics change the way we think about health, disease, and personal identity. The free two-day conference features prominent panelists who will discuss the ethical implications of new discoveries in genetics.

The complete schedule is available here (with links to each speaker's bio). Registration is free, but space is limited. Register online, call (816) 979-1352 or e-mail.

Tracing the Tribe was happy to note that our good friend, author and journalist Jon Entine ("Abraham's Children: Race, identity and the DNA of the Chosen People") is the kick-off speaker at 8.30am Monday, with "Genetic Testing and Jewish Identity: Do our genes tell us who we are?"

While the upcoming seminar is heavy on Jewish presenters and Jewish-related topics, organizer Dr. John Lantos (more below) said anyone who is interested in the field of genetics might find it interesting.

Other Monday programs:

-- “Tay-Sachs and Sickle Cell: Different cultures, different responses to genetic testing”
Rutgers University sociologist Keith Wailoo.

-- “Genetic testing from a traditional Jewish perspective: Can testing before marriage help?”
Thomas Jefferson University radiologist Daniel Eisenberg.

-- “Personalized Medicine and the cost of health care”
Bar Ilan University's Rabbi Noam Zohar and Children's Mercy Hospital pharmacogeneticist Dr. Stephen Spielberg.

-- “Can we redesign ourselves? If so, would we do it well? Thoughts of a genetics consumer” Journalist/bioethicist David Ewing Dunan

Tuesday sessions include:

-- “Eugenics, arranged marriages and gene-therapy responses to genetic disease”
Panel: American University of Judaism professor, Rabbi Elliot Dorff; NIH geneticist Chris Austin; and “Yaakov,” father of a child with a genetic disease

--“Individuals, culture and biology: what does the future hold?”
Northwestern University bioethicist Laurie Zoloth and Dr. John Lantos

The seminar organizer is University of Chicago professor of pediatrics and bioethics Dr. John Lantos, who holds the John B. Francis Chair in Bioethics at the Kansas City-based Center for Practical Bioethics. He has lived in the Kansas City area for a few years and has an office at Children's Mercy Hospital.

Why did Lantos organize this event?

“There have been fascinating developments in genetics, leading to what is called personalized medicine,” Dr. Lantos said. “It’s still mostly a dream, but the idea is that, instead of studying diseases and treatments the way we have since the beginning of time — which is to figure that all people act the same — we can now figure out how people are different and customize treatments for each individual genetic makeup.”
Read the complete program at the link above, as well as the full article (link above) for more information.

28 October 2009

Boston: Prof. Zvi Gitelman, Nov. 12 and 15

Judaic Studies scholar Professor Zvi Gitelman will give two lectures at the Third Lecture Series co-sponsored by Hebrew College and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston.

Prof. Zvi Gitelman will give two lectures on Jewish Genealogy and History

On November 12, Prof. Gitelman will speak on "Culture Wars: Litvaks vs Galizianers in Eastern Europe," at 8pm at Temple Emanuel, Newton.

The program focuses on the cultural chasm - sometimes comic, sometimes tense - between the two main streams of Yiddishkeit. Eastern Europe, home to 80% of American Jews, was an area of diverse religious practices, political ideologies, Yiddish pronunciation, foods, customs, and dress. Some of this diversity carried over to America, but it has faded in the post-immigrant generations. This talk will explore the differences among Eastern European Jews and the stereotypes to which they gave rise, illustrating the richness and vitality of a civilization that continues to inform Jewish life in Europe, the Americas and Israel.
On November 15, his second talk is titled "A century of ambivalence: Jews, Soviets and Russians," at 3.30pm at Hebrew College, Newton.

His talk will address the complex and uneasy relationship among Jews, Soviets and Russians. In 1900, 5.2 million Jews lived in the Soviet Empire; today, they number about 500,000. On the one hand, Russian Jewry experienced pogroms, two World Wars, two revolutions, purges, Communism, the Holocaust and Stalin's anti-Semitism over the course of a century or more. On the other hand, Russian Jewry experienced unprecedented social, political and vocational mobility.
Gitelman is the Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. He served as Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University. He is the author of “Ethnicity or Religion? The Evolution of Jewish Identities” and “A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union since 1881,” and numerous other books.

Both programs are free. Space is limited for the November 15 program, and advance registration is required. Register online or call 617-559-8622.

An intensive nine-session course (Monday evenings) on how to research Jewish family history begins at Hebrew College on February 8, 2010. For more information, click here. It is taught by experienced genealogists from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston.

Both the lectures and the course are made possible by a generous grant from Harvey Krueger of New York.

Books: Immigrants and émigrés

Tablet Magazine hit another home run again today, with Josh Lambert's column - On the Bookshelf - focusing on immigrants and emigres.

In his coverage of peripatetic Jewish families, he mentioned a slew of good books.

In Jacob’s Cane: A Jewish Family’s Journey from the Four Lands of Lithuania to the Ports of London and Baltimore (Basic, October) Elisa New tells the story of how her family "wheeled and dealed" its way through their connections in Lithuania, London, Baltimore and beyond.

[She] offers a reminder that the Jewish immigrant experience has been as various as the immigrants have been numerous, and that not all the Jews who arrived in America viewed it as a destination. “We imagine every immigrant a transplant from the rutted shtetl,” she writes, “his background pious, his experience thin, his hopes fastened on the new land to which he makes his way.”
Historian Walter Lacquer left Breslau as a teen in 1938, and lived in Palestine, London, and the US, which he covered in Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go: A Memoir of the Journeying Years (1993). His new book, Best of Times, Worst of Times: Memoirs of a Political Education (Brandeis, November), explores his encounters with Nazism, Marxism, Zionism, and the Cold War.

Kati Marton's Enemies of the People: A Family’s Escape to America (Simon and Schuster, October) covers recently opened Hungarian archives to tell her parents' story and emigration to the US in 1957.

[Her] parents were Hungarian children of privilege who became prominent international journalists thanks to their English fluency and ran afoul of the Communist secret police in the 1950s. Marton’s mother’s alleged crime? “Discussing the price of eggs (and meat) with the Americans.”
Lambert also mentions Marton's previous book, The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World.

Tracing the Tribe thoroughly enjoyed (and highly recommends) Frances Dinkelspiel’s Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California (St. Martin’s, December, paperback), in which she describes her great-great-grandfather's role in developing the state's major industries.

[Her] great-great-grandfather never countenanced going anywhere but California when he left Bavaria in 1859, at the age of 16: he had relatives with a dry goods store in a tiny town called Los Angeles, and he aimed to join them.
German immigrant Walter Roth, in Avengers and Defenders: Glimpses of Chicago’s Jewish Past (Academy Chicago, September), views the records of Chicago’s past to uncover colorful Jewish characters who wielded extraordinary influence in his collection of historical anecdotes.

[It] introduces machers who innovated in advertising, mail order, radio, and the stockyards, as well as a number of influential Chicagoan scientists and jurists.
Journalist Miriam Pawel's The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement (Bloomsbury, October), reveals that although a number of Jews established the movement with Chavez, he turned against them in the late 1970s.

Lambert lists two novels: Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City (Doubleday, October), and Paul Auster's Invisible (Holt, November). One centers on New York's Upper East Side and the other on the Upper West Side.

The round up ends with The Enigma of Isaac Babel: Biography, History, Context (Stanford, November) edited by Gregory Friedin. Babel was sent to prison in 1939 and shot a few years later by Stalin's NKVD.

Read the complete article at the link above.

Ukraine: 1,500 cemeteries to be restored

Spearheaded by the Jewish community of Zhitomir and the Chevra Kadisha organization, a project was launched to restore some 1,500 Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine.

It will begin by taking an inventory of Ukrainian Jewish cemeteries, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of the FSU. The second step will be preservation and renovation.

Many of the cemeteries are located in towns and villages where there are either no Jews at all or - at best - only a handful. Some cemeteries have been vandalized over the years.

Read more about the project here.

HIAS: Google's Brin gives $1 million gift

HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) received a $1 million gift from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, according to a press release from the organization.

The organization was one of the groups that helped his family when it left the Soviet Union some three decades ago.

Both of Google's co-founders (Brin and Larry Page) are Jewish.

The New York Times reports that Brin has given several gifts to Jewish organizations that helped his family:
“I would have never had the kinds of opportunities I’ve had here in the Soviet Union, or even in Russia today. I would like to see anyone be able to achieve their dreams, and that’s what this organization does.”
The gift was announced on the 3oth anniversary of his arrival in the US, when Brin was 6 years old.

Many readers of Tracing the Tribe had ancestors who were helped by HIAS when they arrived. HIAS has been helping immigrants and refugees since it was established in 1881. The estimate is that more than 4.5 million refugees and immigrants have been helped to resettle in the US, Israel and other countries.

In a HIAS press release, chair Michael Rukin noted that “As a refugee himself, Sergey Brin knows better than most the value of living freely in a country that allows people to dream and -- through vision, creativity and hard work -- fulfill those dreams."

He and his family were able to build a new life in the United States and, as a result, he was able to create a new industry by changing the way we process and use information. His contributions literally have changed the world.”

For more information on HIAS, click here. Read the New York Times story here.

HIAS also runs a location service, helping to reconnect families through a database of missing people. Learn about it here.

Pittsburgh: Jewish Genealogy resources, Nov. 8

Tracing the Tribe readers in the Pittsburgh area will be interested in an open house at the Rauh Jewish Archives, on Sunday, November 8.

"Finding Your Family's Story: Jewish Genealogical Resources in the Rauh Jewish Archives" will run from 1-3pm, in the Senator John Heinz History Center library.

Learn to trace your family in Western Pennsylvania and beyond by using the archive's resources. Susan M. Melnick is the archivist at the Rauh Jewish Archives.

Archivists and a professional genealogist will be present to answer questions and provide assistance in archival and online resources, as well as information on preserving family documents.

The program is free with History Center admission. For more information and to register, send an email.

27 October 2009

JGSLA 2010: Planning for July

It's that time of year! So mark your calendars and start making plans. The JGSLA 2010 conference (July 11-16, Los Angeles) is speeding ahead with everything.

The new hotel - the JW Marriott - is ahead of schedule on construction with some 2,500 workers there every day, hanging chandeliers, wallpapering and working very hard. When conference co-chairs did a walk-through recently, they visualized the conference, attendees gathering for lectures, in the resource room, visiting the vendor and exhibit areas.

Everything for the conference will be on one floor, making it very convenient. As co-chair Pam Weisberger said, there's "plenty of public space to meet, greet, network and nosh."

The hotel will open formally in February 2010, with 879 rooms, great amenities and surrounded by the LA Live complex for dining, restaurants and entertainment.

However, as frequent conference-goers know, the real reason to attend is networking with some 1,000 or more colleagues representing those who've attended many annual conferences or those who will be attending their very first event.

It's the only time of the year to meet, - in one place, - so many people you've only known as email addresses, and to meet so many international researchers and experts from around the world.

It's these wonderful moments - some call them magical - that make each annual event so special. You'll never know when a chance encounter with a total stranger will change your genealogical life forever.

Even more exciting, the JGSLA will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2010!

For everything about the upcoming conference, click here, and sign up for the conference blog and the newsletter. The Call for Papers opens November 15.

San Francisco Bay: Magnes Museum founder dead

On behalf of the Judah L. Magnes Museum, director and chief curator Alla Efimova informed the Magnes community of the death of Seymour Fromer, 87.

Fromer died in his home in Berkeley, California, on October 25 after a long illness. The internationally known Jewish educator and founder of the Judah L. Magnes Museum was 87.

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Fromer graduated from Stuyvesant High School, earned a B.A. from Brooklyn College, and did graduate work at Teachers College Columbia University. He worked in the Jewish communities of Essex County , New Jersey and Los Angeles where, in 1955, in the Hollywood Bowl he presented the opera David, composed by Darius Milhaud who conducted the orchestra. In Los Angeles, Fromer met and married his wife of more than fifty years, the poet and author Rebecca Camhi.

In the late 1950s, Fromer came to Oakland, California, and established the Jewish Education Council (the forerunner of today’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning), remaining in that post for a quarter century.

In 1962, the Fromers founded the Magnes Museum, first in modest quarters over the Parkway movie theater in Oakland and a few years later in the turn-of-the-century Burke mansion at 2911 Russell Street in Berkeley, its headquarters to this day.

Before Fromer’s retirement in 1998, the Magnes grew to become the third largest Jewish museum in North America. It has specialized in ceremonial art and posters and paintings of Jewish interest. Fromer expanded the collection by rescuing artifacts from endangered Jewish communities such as Czechoslovakia, Morocco, Egypt, and India.

In 1967, he established the Western Jewish History Center at the Magnes, the first regional Jewish history center in the U.S. and the most comprehensive. He also created the Commission for the Preservation of Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries and Landmarks, which restored and to this day maintains seven Jewish Gold Rush cemeteries in the California Mother Lode.

Especially in the 1970s and 80s, Fromer nurtured many young Jewish scholars and artists and was a key catalyst in the Jewish cultural renaissance in the Bay Area. He provided the impetus for such organizations as Lehrhaus Judaica, the Jewish Film Festival, and the National Yiddish Book Center.

Seymour Fromer is survived by his wife, Rebecca Camhi Fromer; their daughter, Mira Z. Amiras, Professor of Comparative Religion at San Jose State University; and grandchildren attorney Michael Zussman and Rayna Leonora Savrosa, a graduate student in the Parsons School of Design, both of Brooklyn, New York.

A memorial service open to the public will be held Tuesday, October 27, at 1PM at Congregation Beth El, 1301 Oxford Street, Berkeley.

The family requests that any donations in Seymour Fromer’s memory be sent to the Judah L. Magnes Museum, 2911 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA 94705.
For more information on the Museum, click here.

China: Kaifeng Jews arrive in Israel

A group of seven descendants of China's Kaifeng Jewish community has moved to Israel with the help of Shavei Israel, according to this report.

Kaifeng was home to a Jewish community for more than 1,000 years.
"I am very excited to be here in the Holy Land," said Yaakov Wang, one of the new immigrants. "This is something that my ancestors dreamed about for generations, and now thank G-d I have finally made it."

Wang said that he eventually hopes to become a rabbi, so that one day he can help other Kaifeng Jewish descendants to learn more about their heritage.
Shavei Israel chair Michael Freund said it took more than two years to get the Interior Ministry to grant special permits for a one-year tourist visas, as they prepare for conversion. Following conversion they will receive citizenship. The group is staying at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, near Beit Shean, where they will study in the Hebrew ulpan.

Said Freund, "This is an historic event. Kaifeng's Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people, and it is very moving to see the remnants of this community returning to their roots."

At its peak, during the Middle Ages, Kaifeng Jewry numbered about 5,000 people. But widespread intermarriage and assimilation, as well as the death of the community's last rabbi, brought about its demise by the middle of the 19th century.

Scholars say there are still hundreds of people in Kaifeng who cling to their identity as descendants of the city's Jewish community. In recent years, a growing number have begun to express an interest in studying Jewish history and culture.

Persian Jewish merchants were among the founders of Kaifeng. The ancient synagogue, in preserved drawings, indicates inscriptions in Hebrew, Farsi and Chinese. The rabbi was called "ustad" or master (Farsi). Ancestral stones indicate some Persian given names.

Tracing the Tribe hopes some of them want to open a real Chinese restaurant in Tel Aviv.

Michigan: Steve Morse, Nov. 8

Here's a chance for Tracing the Tribe's Detroit-area readers to hear Dr. Stephen Morse on Sunday, November 8.

Steve, of course, is the creator of the One-Step site which makes it simple and more efficient to search well-known databases.

His appearance is hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Michigan, and the program will take place from 11am-2pm, at the Holocaust Memorial Center, Farmington Hills.

Steve will present two programs:

-- Phonetic matching: An alternative to Soundex, with fewer false hits

-- One-Step Website: A hodgepodge of lesser-known gems

Admission: JGSMichigan members are free; others, $10.

To make a reservation, click here or the JGSMichigan website.

26 October 2009

New Mexico: Don Juan Oñate's Jewish roots, Nov. 12

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on the research of genealogist José Antonio Esquibel, whose research into New Mexican ancestry, including the familias viejas (the old families who came with explorers such Don Juan de Oñate) has also provided information on Jewish family history.

Esquibel, who been researching the genealogy of New Mexican families for 25 years, will speak on “The Jewish-Converso Lineage of Don Juan de Oñate,” at 6pm, Thursday, November 12, at the New Mexico History Museum, in Santa Fe. There is no charge for admission. The event is part of Santa Fe's ongoing 400th birthday celebration.

According to Esquibel, people tend to underestimate the contributions Jewish people made to the history of Spain, particularly those folks who converted.

The article demonstrated his evidence that Oñate, - New Mexico's first governor - was a Converso, descended from Spanish Jews who were converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition and as early as 1390.

Oñate was ordered by King Felipe II of Spain to spread Catholicism through the province of Santa Fé de Nuevo México. New Spain's viceroy Luis de Velasco gave permission for the explorer to lead the 1598 colonizing expedition up the Rio Grande to what is today New Mexico. Velasco also had Jewish ancestors, including one who was an accountant for the king and converted.

Oñate founded the first Spanish capital, San Juan de los Caballeros, across the Rio Grande from San Juan Pueblo. His ancestors on his mother's side included a rabbi who converted to Christianity in 1390 along with his siblings.

According to Esquibel's research, María Núñez Ha-Levi converted to Christianity in July 1390 along with her brother, Rabbi Salomon Ha-Levi, who became known as Pedro de Santa María and was later Bishop of Cartagena. She married Juan Garces (Rodríguez) de Maluenda, also from a Jewish family that converted to Christianity.
Tracing the Tribe notes that Salomon Ha-Levi was chief rabbi of Burgos, Spain. David M. Gitlitz ("Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews") and other scholars indicate that his new name was Pablo de Santa Maria - not Pedro - and that he was also known as Paul of Burgos.

Although Esquibel says in the article there is no clear evidence that Oñate knew or acknowledged his Jewish heritage or that his family continued to practice their faith in secret after converting to Christianity, he added that there is a good chance that Oñate (born c1552) was at least aware of his Jewish background.

Tracing the Tribe knows that Northern New Mexico is home to a very large population of Conversos who know who they are and who continue to secretly observe many Jewish traditions today. Indeed, most of the people who accompanied Onate were Conversos themselves and their names are listed in Inquisition Court documents in Spanish archives.Who better to help his fellow co-religionists to find freedom of religion in the isolated region of New Mexico than a leader who identified with them and who had the same background?

Tracing the Tribe maintains that those who know northern New Mexico families understand how secretive they remain even today, centuries after arriving in the area. In general, they still do not talk to researchers and keeping the family secrets is still a very serious concern.

Many Sephardic sources researched by Tracing the Tribe note that Jewish families converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition often had a son enter the church. Having a priest in the family meant he could - without suspicion - study Hebrew and the Old Testament and could visit other Converso families and maintain relationships among them. Indeed, many families continued to marry other Converso families, even after converting in the late 1380s, or following the mass conversions of 1391 when many Spanish Jewish communities were decimated, as well as those who were forcibly converted during the late 1400s. Many families continually married other families with the same background and to secretly observe Jewish traditions, in spite of their fear of the Inquisition.

[NOTE: The DNA genetic genealogy database at FamilyTreeDNA.com has gathered many samples of New Mexican families. Results demonstrate that many of the "old families" belong to haplogroups commonly found in Jewish families, including Kohanim modal signatures, indicating Jewish priestly descent. Tracing the Tribe recommends that those interested in this topic visit FamilyTreeDNA.com. Indeed, there is another FamilyTreeDNA project (IberianAshkenaz) which has genetically matched some 75% of Ashkenazi Jewish participants (with a Sephardic oral history or other criteria) to Hispanic Jews who know or suspect Jewish origins.]

Former New Mexico state historian Dr. Stanley Hordes, now teaching at the University of New Mexico, included some of Esquibel's research in his 2005 book, "To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico." Hordes believes Rabbi Salomon/Pedro (Pablo) de Santa Maria, a prominent Catholic theologian, would have been known to the Oñate family, but adds that none of the family were accused of practicing Judaism.

Esquibel published some of his Jewish-converso ancestry research on Oñate in the Colonial American Historical Review (1998). He has been doing genealogical research on New Mexico families for 25 years. On his father's side, Oñate was Basque, and the Jewish roots are on his maternal side.
At the end of the 14th century, when the Inquisition forced the Jews in Spain and Portugal to convert or leave, Oñate's Jewish ancestors converted to preserve their wealth and political positions in Spanish society, he said.
Don Adams and Teresa Kendrick, in a 2003 article, "Don Juan de Oñate and the First Thanksgiving," reported that Oñate's mother, Catalina de Salazar, was the daughter of Gonzalo de Salazar, the royal treasurer of New Spain and a Converso.

Esquibel said that the Ha-Levi descendants became so interrelated with families of the Castilian nobility that a royal decree was issued by King Felipe III between 1598 and 1691 in recognition of a papal brief written in 1596 by Pope Clement VIII, officially recognizing the Ha-Levi as an honorable and noble family of Christian faith. This was given because of services provided by their descendants to the Roman Catholic Church and because the Ha-Levi were believed to be descendants of the same Hebrew tribe as the Virgin Mary.
Oñate resigned as governor of Nuevo México after committing atrocities on the Acoma tribe and other native peoples. Eventually convicted of cruelty against the Indians and the colonists, he was later cleared.

Read the complete article at the link above. Tracing the Tribe highly recommends two books for those interested in Converso history: David M. Gitlitz (Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews), Stanley Hordes (To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico). Also visit the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies, which offers many articles, a newsletter and an annual conference.

UK: Miriam Margoyles' perfect weekend

One of Jewish genealogy's most well-known UK personalities is actress Miriam Margoyles, a regular at the annual international Jewish genealogy conferences.

The UK Telegraph just ran a focus story on her "perfect weekend," which includes exploring cemeteries - with which all genealogists can certainly identify - along with a plug for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain.

I try to get the most out of the weekend. I make more hours than most people because I don't sleep well. I get up about 4am. It's the perfect time to do a few exercises, but I allow myself not to do them. I go immediately to my computer and I do genealogy for hours, until it is a reasonable time to contact other people.
Towards the end of the story, after she lists her other favorite weekend activities, she adds:

If there's nothing suitable at the cinema, I love exploring a cemetery. There's a wonderful one at Brompton Road. I enjoy reading the gravestones and imagining other people's lives.

However, my main hobby is genealogy, probably because I haven't got any brothers or sisters, and if there is a Jewish Genealogical Society meeting on a Sunday afternoon, I will go to that.
In addition to Jewish genealogy, some of her other favorite things include going to the cinema, exploring cemeteries, a portrait of her father and her grandmother's foot stool.

Read the complete story at the link above.

25 October 2009

New Blog: The Jewish Narrative

Tracing the Tribe has discovered a new blog called Jewish Narrative.

Its preface reads: "You don't have to be Jewish to be interested in Jewish history. Author Constance Harris reviews interesting and little-known aspects of the Jewish experience over the centuries."

Harris is the author of (see below) "The Way Jews Lived: Five Hundred Years of Printed Words and Images."

Jewish Narrative's introductory post (October 6, 2009) reads:

You don't have to be Jewish to be interested in Jewish history. The Jews were important players in world events from almost the beginning of recorded time. Jewish stock produced Moses, Jesus, Paul, Spinoza, Disraeli, Freud, Marx, and Einstein.

Mark Twain wrote in 1899 "If the statistics are right, the Jews contribute but one per cent of the human race... His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstract learning are away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers... and he has done it with his hands tied behind him."

While religious, ethnic, and racial hatred have beset all of mankind, in length of time and relentlessness of purpose no other people have endured the unhappy fortunes of the Jews. But their history transcends a recital of pain and misfortune. They gave the world unique ethical systems. Their Sabbath day of rest and study gifted a society that knew week long drudgery and endless toil. Their festivals, rituals, and customs offered more than legislation, more than aesthetics; they inculcated tradition and cultural continuity and offered opportunities to alleviate the bad and savor the good. Mainstream Judaism historically denied magical practices or human sacrifices, restricted slave ownership, regulated tillage of the soil, and limited the collection of debts.
In her blog, Harris will discuss how Jews resolved - or failed to resolve - basic issues among themselves and well as how Jewish culture interfaced with Christianity, sometimes as colleagues, more often as dissenters.

Other topics this month have included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Poem on Jewish History, A Tree Grew in Amsterdam, True Passover Seder Stories, "Anti-Jewish" and "Anti-Semitism" - Is there a difference?, The Jews' Expulsion from, and Return to England, and Consideration for the Poor and the Weak (and Women).

"The Way Jews Lived" has received good reviews:

According to Senior Rabbi Steven Weil (Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, California):

[Harris] masterfully explores over six centuries of Jewish social history with keen eye and balanced perspective. This important study skillfully offers the reader a rare glimpse into the interconnection between complex world events and how Jewish life, with all its triumphs and challenges, is woven irrevocably through them. This enlightening book is a thorough, clearly organized examination which seems to leave no stone unturned, particularly in its fascinating analysis of the rise of anti Semitism in 19th century central Europe. Sometimes inspiring, occasionally bittersweet, this collection which personifies the heroic struggle of our people is a consistently thought-provoking, entertaining read. I heartily recommend The Way Jews Lived to anyone, regardless of faith, who has a healthy appetite for knowledge.
Check out the blog and more about her book online.

Southern California: Jewish treasures, Nov. 8

Genealogical details turn up in many places, and Jewish family history is often revealed in books and documents from medieval times.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) will host antiquities collector Rabbi Shimon Paskow at its meeting on Sunday, November 8, at Temple Adat Elohim, Thousand Oaks.

The meeting begins at 1.30pm.

Paskow is Temple Etz Chaim's rabbi emeritus and has spent a lifetime looking for Jewish history in books and manuscripts.

He will show some of his Jewish treasures, including:

-- A Hebrew Haggadah printed in Venezia (Venice), Italy with a page of “approval from the Inquisitor” (from the Inquisition era).

-- A Sephardic Hebrew siddur (prayer book) with a page in Portuguese. This includes the names of the people who produced the book, which are as genealogically interesting as the book itself.

-- A scroll with a child’s prayer for its parents.

Paskow was ordained by the HUC-JIR New York. He has served as a US Army chaplain and is a Colonel Army Reserves Ret.

He joined Temple Etz Chaim in 1969 and is now Rabbi Emeritus.

For more information, send an email.

Footnote: Holocaust Collection, updates

A friendly reminder that the new Holocaust Collection at Footnote.com is still available - no charge - through the end of October.

Do check out the records. You might find excellent information. For more information on the collection, read Tracing the Tribe's post on it. And read Tyler's post on the Footnote blog.

Tracing the Tribe has written additional posts focusing on Footnote.com. Just enter "footnote.com" in the blog search box and learn about other features.

Additionally, Tracing the Tribe has located various Jewish records in other Footnote collections. such as Civil War Widows' Pensions and Southern Claims Commission. If your family roots are Civil War-era Southern US, you may be in for a surprise or two.

Footnote.com is always adding new items. Some of the new updates include city directories for Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Los Angeles, Louisville, New Orleans, New York, Newark, St. Louis and San Francisco.

City directories help you trace your relatives as they moved around in one city, and may even help you pick up the trail in other cities. I found Philadelphia relatives who disappeared in that city and were later rediscovered, to my amazement, in Baltimore.

Randy Seaver offered two excellent posts at Genea-Musings.com on searching at Footnote.com. His technology posts, analysis and explanations of "the tricks of the trade" are priceless; I always learn something new.
Friday, October 16:
Using Wild Cards for Footnote.com Searches

Thursday, October 15:
Learning new Footnote.com Search Tricks
Check out Footnote.com's offerings now.

24 October 2009

Mississippi: Holocaust denier 'no-show'

Holocaust denier and antisemite David Irving failed to make a scheduled appearance Wednesday at the City Hall in Jackson, Mississippi.

After the Jackson Free Press reported on October 12 that white separatists had scheduled Irving at Jackson City Hall on October 21, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants sent an e-mail asking the mayor to bar Irving's appearance in the municipal building.

According to the Jackson Free Press, Irving went "underground" after the mayor didn't endorse his appearance in the government venue. Instead, Irving appeared at a hotel in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and told the newspaper, "We sat around plotting as neo-Nazis do, [and] finding synagogues we can set on fire and tombstones that we can throw around."

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering said, "We are gratified that Jackson City Hall did not serve as a platform for the likes of David Irving. We are revolted by his reported comments in the local media which are nothing short of monstrous."
The American Gathering has learned that Irving is planning a New York sneak appearance on November 14, and they wish to alert the general public, as well as public space and venue managers, about that development.

Irving was convicted and jailed for Holocaust denial in Europe and calls his current US visit a "book tour."

This week, American Express cancelled Irving's ability to accept AMEX payments for his book tour. An AMEX spokesperson said, according to The American Gathering, "The materials that he sells on his web site are not consistent with the brand policies that we have in our merchant agreement."

The American Gathering also encourages other credit card companies and PayPal to follow suit.

For more information, contact, visit the American Gathering website.

23 October 2009

Germany: DP camps film premieres

It has been 61 years since three Jewish Displaced Persons camps in Germany (Schlachtensee, Tempelhof and Wittenau) were closed, but filmmaker Gabriel Heim has produced a 52-minute documentary on those who passed through these camps.

“Jewish Transit Berlin: From Hell to Hope” premiered Monday at the Berlin Jewish Museum. It relates the unusual albeit brief history of the DP camps set up in postwar Berlin, according to the JTA story.

The Swiss-born filmmaker calls them “the last Jewish shtetls on German soil," and found individuals (all aged 80 or more) to share their stories.

Rich with archival footage and contemporary interviews, the film goes a long way toward painting a picture of their odyssey, which begins with the migration of some 350,000 exhausted Jewish refugees and survivors from Eastern Europe. About 100,000 made their way to bombed-out Berlin, according to Heim. Most landed in other German cities and later emigrated.

“There were thousands of people who were liberated and were displaced in Berlin,” said Rabbi Andreas Nachama, a historian who directs the Topography of Terror archive and heads the Department of Holocaust Studies at Touro College in Berlin. “You had Jews and non-Jews, slave workers and those who were repatriated.”
There were some 6,000 Jews (2,300 were children) still homeless in Berlin by January 1946, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, resulting in the three camps for survivors.

Heim said that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower (the US Army chief of staff) decided to create the camps for Jews following clashes in other camps populated by both survivors and non-Jews recognized as murderers.

“It was a magnificent rebirth, a re-creation of people who were so down and came to life,” recalled Rachel Abramowitz, 81, whose father had been deported by Stalin to Siberia from Poland before the war. Afterward, with no one left in Poland, her family made its way to Germany.

They arrived by truck in Berlin in the middle of the night. As children jumped out of the truck, they were met by a U.S. Army chaplain, Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz, who also had arrived in Berlin that day.
Rachel and the rabbi later married on November 23, 1947, in Berlin. They live in Florida and have three children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

The rabbi created a school and summer camp for the 2,300 children, and the Jewish DP camps also featured Yiddish newspapers, radio stations and theaters, while there were also many marriages and many babies.

The camps closed in 1948, and most Jews had left by June, flown out on the same airlifts that had unloaded emergency food and supplies during the Soviet blockade of Berlin. Most went to the US, Israel, Canada or South Africa, although about 500 stayed in Berlin.

The film was co-produced by ARD and Yad Vashem, and co-directed by Ronnie Golz.

Read the complete story at the link above.

South Africa: New newsletter online

The Southern Africa Special Interest Group (SA-SIG) at JewishGen publishes a quarterly newsletter. The latest issue (September 2009) and all previous issues are available online.

The purpose and goal of the group is to bring together Jewish genealogy researchers with a common interest. It provides information to Jewish family history researchers with roots in South Africa, Lesotho, Basutoland, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Mozambique, Kenya and the former Belgian Congo.

Many researchers of these areas also share a common Lithuanian heritage.

SA-SIG has published a quarterly newsletter since 2000.

At the recent Philly 2009 conference, some 22 individuals attended the SA-SIG meeting. On the agenda were the South African Jewish Rootsbank Database, which plans to document an estimated 15,000 core families who migrated to Southern Africa 1850-1950 from England, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus.

The September issue includes articles on the Feitelberg family, on the meaning of surnames, on the late Bernhard Herzberg and more. It also details the Muizenberg Exhibition, which will open at the Cape Town Jewish Museum on December 16. More than 1,000 photos, and a lot of material will be included.

The issue also contains information on joining the SA-SIG, or click here.

JGSLA 2010: Kurzweil named 'genealogist in residence'

Arthur Kurzweil has been named the first-ever conference "Genealogist in Residence," according to the JGSLA 2010 blog for the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which is set from July 11-16 in Los Angeles.

Author of "From Generation to Generation" - which should be required reading for all beginning Jewish genealogists - Arthur Kurzweil is one of America’s foremost experts in the field.

He will give lectures and classes all week, and will also, according to conference chairs, be "available for kibitzing, kvetching and commentary on the fly."

Arthur's talents are also prominent in the field of magic, and he will also perform "Searching for God in a Magic Shop." It is certainly appropriate because attendees experience many magical moments at these annual conferences. "It is a unique exploration of the world of illusions, offering profound ideas of Jewish thought."

How many times during your family tree meanderings have you slapped your forehead and exclaimed: “It was there all the time…I just didn’t see it!” Kurzweil’s performance will demonstrate how often we miss what is right in front of us, how little we truly “see” at first glance. An enlightening lesson for genealogists.

He will also conduct two hands-on workshops, “Climbing Your Jewish Family Tree” and “Holocaust Research: How and Why To Locate Information About What Happened to Your Family During the Holocaust,” and discuss the spiritual nature of genealogy.

For more information, visit JGSLA2010.com.

Planning on speaking at the Los Angeles conference? The Call for Papers opens November 15, so get ready!

22 October 2009

Washington DC: Gesher Galicia, cadastral records, Nov. 15

Gesher Galicia will hold a regional meeting open to all hosted by the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington on Sunday, November 15.

There is no charge for non-members for the two programs presented. If you are new to Jewish genealogy and want to see some of excellent programming presented by the JGSGW, try to attend.

Remember that JGSGW will be hosting the 2011 IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, so it's never too early to meet the people at what is one of the best Jewish genealogical societies around.

The meeting runs from 11am-12.15pm at Bnai Israel, in Rockville, Maryland.

Gesher Galicia ("Bridge to Galicia") is the special interest group for researchers who have Jewish roots in this former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The program will offer a short overview of the history of Galicia and provide an introduction to the SIG's research activities.

The agenda covers metrical records, newspapers, school and landowner records, and where they can be found online and in archives.

The last segment is a video screening of "The Bad Arolsen Research Experience," which details on site research at the International Tracing Service in Germany. It spotlights the ITS building where extraordinary Galician community records are housed. Q & A will follow.

At 2pm, following a business meeting, the second part of the meeting presents Gesher Galicia president Pamela Weisberger speaking on "Cadastral Maps & Landowner Records: Alternate Resources for Genealogical Research."

Pamela is also program chair of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, which one of the chairs for this year's 2010 IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (July 11-16), hosted by the JGSLA.

Cadastral land records and property maps are an excellent source of family history information..

Combining maps and records provides exact locations in a shtetl where each family lived and who their neighbors were. Learn the exact locations of synagogue, cemetery, schools, market square and more.

The records can provide the size and/or values (for taxes) of properties owned - and the house numbers - enabling a link between the physical locations of families in the shtetl and genealogical data.

Combining maps and records are even more important when genealogical records are not available. In some cases, these may be the only documented evidence of a family living in a specific place. This is an alternative source of genealogical and community information.

Pamela will also provide details on how to obtain this type of record from overseas archives, how to create a community project using this data, and how to also find cadastral and perspective maps for US communities.

Click here for more information or for directions.

Filtering Jewish history: Sephardi and Ashkanazi

How do we look at history in general and at Jewish history specifically? Tracing the Tribe believes that history is always filtered through what we know today.

In the case of Sephardic history, most readers - unless they are personally connected in some to this history - are merely aware of 1492's Expulsion and the Sephardic diaspora.

A smaller group knows about the pogroms and mass conversions in 1391, across Spain. Our family believes we likely left from Catalunya around this time, as did many others, crossing into French Catalunya, into Germany, Poland and further east, eventually landing in Belarus.

Even fewer are aware of the Almohades - fanatical Moslem rulers in Spain - who, in 1148, also gave Jews and others the same old choice, convert or die. Maimonides and his family left at that time.

An interesting story by Seth Frantzman in the Jerusalem Post addresses how we look at history.

History is subject to our own modern judgments based on what we value today. History can also serve to tell us something about the future. If we choose to emphasize and romanticize certain aspects of the past it is because we imagine a future that will embody those aspects.

In the case of Jewish history and memory two periods stand out for praise in popular secular Jewish assessment. One is the "Golden Age" of Spanish Jewry from the eighth to 15th centuries.

The other is the epoch of the Jews of Germany from the 18th to the 20th centuries. The Jewish interest in this history has also affected Western perceptions of these periods.

Thus Muslim Spain has come to embody all sorts of positive traits that the humanistic West intends to want to revive for the future. Similarly there is no period in German history that is viewed through such a positive light as that of the short-lived Weimar Republic which existed between the two world wars.
Frantzman discusses two popular history books: Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Menocal and The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, by Amos Elon.

Following September 11, both books (published in 2003) seemed to suggest that Europeans examine the history of tolerance that had existed in Germany before the Holocaust and Spain before the "Reconquista."

Jewish historians are interested in both places because Jewish communities had a tragic end in both due to the Inquisition and Expulsion and the Holocaust.
But just because things end in communal destruction doesn't necessarily lead to the conclusion that the society that predated the catastrophe must have been a utopia. Furthermore even if it is logical to want to commemorate a community that was destroyed there is no reason to emphasize how tolerant the community that destroyed it had been.
Spain produced brilliant writers and philosophers, such as Meir Abulafia, Isaac Abravanel, Alharizi, Karo, de Leon, Maimonides and Nahmanides. The German Jewish community also produced such as Marx, Baeck, Arendt, Heine, Einstein, Mendelssohn and others.

However, asks Frantzman, just because the community produced such individuals does it mean that the society where they lived was a "utopia of tolerance"?

The assimilated German Jews had the highest intermarriage rate in Europe. Many brilliant individuals had converted to Christianity. The Weimar Republic was, according to Frantzman, although seemingly liberal and tolerant, it was full of bigotry, extremism and weakness that led to the Holocaust.

The Spanish Golden Age was not so great either, and the Almohades provided a handy choice: convert, be exiled or die. Not so tolerant.
Most have forgotten that this Arab culture in Spain was one that included slavery. People speak of Spain as a "Convivencia" or coexistence society. This coexistence society we imagine as a utopia resembles the American antebellum South, with slavery and large wealthy estates.
The author notes that Jews also prospered in the American South, but that it is not a model for today.

The myth of Muslim Spain and Weimar Germany and the use of the flowering of its Jewish culture is one that harms the West and Jewish culture to this day, presenting a false picture of the past and determining a false hope for a utopian future based on a faulty model that will lead only to failure and self-destruction.
Frantzman is a Hebrew University researcher. Read the complete article at the link above.